LOS ANGELES — Movie fans are investing in Michael Douglas and Oliver Stone's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," which opened as the No. 1 weekend movie with $19 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The 20th Century Fox release led a crop of so-so to weak newcomers, though the sequel to Douglas and Stone's 1987 hit "Wall Street" did not quite set off a bull market at the box office.
Its financial returns were solid but unspectacular as Hollywood experienced a typically sleepy early fall weekend, with audiences finding nothing to bring them out in huge numbers.
The "Wall Street' sequel reunites director Stone with Douglas, who reprises his role as investment shark Gordon Gekko. The movie co-stars Shia LaBeouf, Carey Mulligan and Josh Brolin in a tale set against the 2008 economic meltdown.
"I think expectations were pretty high for this movie. That's not only an iconic character of Gordon Gekko but it's also an iconic movie," said Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst for Hollywood.com. "But then, it's about the world of high finance. That's not exactly a topic that sets the box office on fire, so I don't think younger audiences were necessarily going to rush out for something like that."
The Warner Bros. animated adventure "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" was No. 2 with a soft opening of $16.3 million.
It finished barely ahead of the $16 million haul for Warner's "The Town," the Ben Affleck heist drama that was the previous weekend's No. 1 release. "The Town" held up well and raised its 10-day total to $49.1 million, giving it a solid shot at hitting the $100 million mark, said Dan Fellman, head of distribution at Warner.
Sony's teen comedy "Easy A," which had been No. 2 a weekend earlier, also held up well with $10.7 million to finish at No. 4. "Easy A" lifted its 10-day total to $32.8 million.
Disney's mother-daughter comedy "You Again," starring Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver, debuted at No. 5 with an anemic $8.3 million.
Playing in narrower release, the Will Ferrell-produced teen comedy "The Virginity Hit" flopped with just $300,000.
The Sony release about youths aiming to lose their virginity debuted in 700 theaters, averaging a paltry $429 a cinema. That compared with $5,330 in 3,565 theaters for the "Wall Street" sequel, $4,569 in 3,575 cinemas for "Legend of the Guardians," and $3,257 in 2,548 locations for "You Again."
None of the new wide releases came close to the $8,000-a-theater average managed a year ago by "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs," which led the box-office over the same weekend in 2009 with a $25 million debut.
Even so, this year's combination of newcomers and strong holdovers lifted overall business slightly. Total movie revenues came in at about $100 million, up 3.8 percent from the same weekend last year, according to Hollywood.com.
Chris Aronson, head of distribution at 20th Century Fox, said the "Wall Street" sequel came in at the high end of the studio's expectations for opening weekend. With nearly two-thirds of the "Wall Street" audience older than 30, the studio hopes the movie will have a long run.
"If there's one thing we know about adult audiences, they don't rush out. But they do keep coming," Aronson said. "It's somewhat unique to have a character that's 22 years old to have such a great second act, and we think we have that with Gordon Gekko."
"Legend of the Guardians," based on Kathryn Lasky's children's books, follows the adventures of young owls searching for mythical winged warriors to help overcome evil forces. The animated family tale comes from director Zack Snyder, known for such violent action flicks as "300" and "Watchmen."
Warner executives had hoped the movie might debut in the $20 million range or a bit higher. Still, distribution boss Fellman said "Legend of the Guardians" drew a solid family audience that gave the movie high marks.
"There's really not a lot of family product out there for the next four to five weeks, so maybe we'll leg this out," Fellman said.
Several films debuted strongly in limited release.
Woody Allen's latest ensemble tale "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" opened with $163,474 in six theaters, averaging $27,246 a cinema. The Sony Pictures Classics release stars Naomi Watts, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Brolin and Freida Pinto.
Paramount's documentary "Waiting for `Superman,'" which examines the ills of America's public schools, premiered with $141,000 in four theaters for a $35,250 average. The film is directed by Davis Guggenheim, who made the Academy Award winner "An Inconvenient Truth."
Lionsgate's thriller "Buried," starring Ryan Reynolds as an American buried alive by terrorists in Iraq, opened with $104,500 in 11 theaters, averaging $9,500.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," $19 million.
2. "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole," $16.3 million.
3. "The Town," $16 million.
4. "Easy A," $10.7 million.
5. "You Again," $8.3 million.
6. "Devil," $6.5 million.
7. "Resident Evil: Afterlife," $4.9 million.
8. "Alpha and Omega," $4.7 million.
9. "Takers," $1.7 million.
10. "Inception," $1.2 million.
Universal Pictures and Focus Features are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric Co.; Sony Pictures, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount and Paramount Vantage are divisions of Viacom Inc.; Disney's parent is The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is a division of The Walt Disney Co.; 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures and Fox Atomic are owned by News Corp.; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a consortium of Providence Equity Partners, Texas Pacific Group, Sony Corp., Comcast Corp., DLJ Merchant Banking Partners and Quadrangle Group; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC Films is owned by Rainbow Media Holdings, a subsidiary of Cablevision Systems Corp.; Rogue Pictures is owned by Relativity Media LLC; Overture Films is a subsidiary of Liberty Media Corp.